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Chit Chat: Playwright plots murder mystery dinner benefit in Batavia

Man of mystery could describe Carl Zeitler, who just co-wrote his latest murder plot. His motive? To benefit Batavia’s annual summer Shakespeare production directed by Julane Sullivan, who also helms his latest interactive dinner-theater play debuting at Aliano’s Ristorante on April 30.

As audience members try to sleuth out the killer in the Oscar party-themed whodunit, they will mingle with Hollywood characters: the Oscar-winning diva, an up-and-coming director, a maven of red carpet reporting, a hapless and harried personal assistant, an often ignored multiple winner of the Science and Technical Academy Award, his niece from Kansas with an extreme fascination for movies and no filter in her comments, and a surprise guest.

The Glen Ellyn actor and writer, a mild-mannered elementary school-level reading specialist in Berwyn by day, dropped a few clues about “And the Murder Goes to … “ in speaking with reporter Renee Tomell. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Renee Tomell: How did you get involved in Julane Sullivan’s project?

Carl Zeitler: She had directed me on several occasions in Shakespeare productions. I did a couple Shakespeare shows at Clark Island and one at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre.

Tomell: How did you pick your co-writer, Debbi Dennison?

Zeitler: I have a similar sense of humor with Debbi. … I knew she had a theater background in improv. She’s a great writing partner.

Tomell: How do the two of you devise a story?

Zeitler: We’ll work on kind of a theme – Valentine’s Day or Halloween or Mother’s Day. We start with the characters. We know it’s going to be usually seven [and] find actors that we can reach out to that can fill these roles. Debbi and I brainstorm based on the theme, and we’ll be back and forth … online or texting. Then we’ll get together in person and have a major brainstorm. It’s a great process. [You] get energized with an idea. One person will add something, and it evolves. Once we’ve got solid characters and a plot, we will start writing, and we will send it back and forth, [asking] did we get enough clues in and motive and false clues – all the intricate details? Debbi and I are story-based and character-based [and] make it fun and quirky.

Tomell: How is Aliano’s as a new venue for the sixth benefit?

Zeitler: They’ve exceeded our expectations. They’re really on board. We’re excited to perform there. You get a full course meal of great food and great service, an interactive show and a fun time. For $30, you can’t beat that.

Tomell: How does the event begin?

Zeitler: During social hour, we will have appetizers The actors in character will mingle with the crowd. We’ve written things in where audience members can get involved in various ways throughout the script itself.

Tomell: Will audience members be rewarded for their detective skills?

Zeitler: We have a variety of prizes. We make it fun and creative. We might have a clueless prize or worst detective – [their] reasons are way in left field. Somebody really interactive [we] might call that the best actor award or the best detective if they were spot on – not only who but why. What clues did they find? We offer several different awards. We usually have something through Julane’s costume shop [All Dressed Up]. It’s something fun we announce at the end of the show [after] the dessert break.

Tomell: Will there be other creative touches?

Zeitler: I hear Aliano’s is working on special names for drinks that will be movie based, as well [as the food courses]. And while we don’t want to make people feel they have to dress [for] the Oscars, they’re welcome to. If we see someone who really got into the spirit, that would be another award.

Cast and edibles

In addition to cast members Dennison and Zeitler, the show also features Bill Boggs of Schaumburg, Galen Malick of Bartlett, Valerie Meachum of Elgin, Lynn Meredith of Elburn and Cheryl Rice of Elmhurst. Part of the ticket price will be donated to Shakespeare on Clark at the Centre’s summer production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

Entree choices are grilled Atlantic salmon with a blood orange balsamic reduction over asparagus risotto; chicken Parmesan with penne pasta and marinara; and a thin-crust mini margherita pizza topped with fresh mozzarella and basil.

If you go

What: Murder mystery dinner to support Shakespeare on Clark at the Centre

Where: Aliano’s Ristorante, 90 N. Island Ave., Batavia

When: 5 p.m. social hour and performance at 6 p.m. April 30

Cost: $30; includes appetizers, entree, dessert and show

Info: Reservations at Aliano’s Ristorante at 630-406-9400; details at

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